Our Experiences Writing Exam in a Pandemic —Lagos WASSCE Candidates

BY next Saturday, the ongoing 2020 school-based West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) will be over, formally closing the secondary education chapter in the history of many senior secondary school students who made it to Class 3 (SSS3) in the country.

By then, each of the students sitting the examination would have written eight or nine subjects at the maximum. The entire candidates nationwide are 1,459,463, consisting of 786,421 males and 763,042 females from a total of 19,129 schools, according to the head of the national office of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) in Nigeria, Mr Patrick Areghan.

Of that national is figure are about 160,000 candidates (about 11 per cent), according to Saturday Tribune’s investigation, who are sitting the examination in Lagos State which, until recently, was the epicenter of the raging coronavirus pandemic in the country. Records show that the state has lost many residents to the virus, with the state authorities also expending huge amount of money, more than any other states in the federation, to fight the virus. Several weeks ago, when the state government announced the reopening of schools to enable the WASSCE candidates have proper revision ahead of the examination and then sit the examination proper, gripped with fear of uncertainty, many considered such reopening risky. The state government-owned schools alone account for a total of 46,804 candidates, which is about 29.3 per cent of the total candidates registered for the annual examination, according to the Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo.

Monsurat’s story

Monsurat, a 16-year-old student, is one of the 46,804 candidates. She is a science student of a public school in Ijaiye-Ojokoro under Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area of the state. She wants to study Biochemistry at the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) and she has already done this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), which was conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). She scored 212 out of possible 400 marks in the examination, according to her. Being an awaiting-result candidate and having had a glimpse of her score which is likely to meet the cut-off mark for her dream course in the university, the ongoing WASSCE is crucial for her.

She knows she must pass and at least obtain a minimum of five credits in suitable subjects, including English Language and Mathematics, to be able to secure the desired admission. Now, Monsurat is writing WASSCE and she is scheduled to finish her papers on September 9. Although before now, especially during the general school closure, she had joined her mates for virtual\online learning provided by the state government as well as many private school owners, using various platforms, she participated in the two-week revision classes provided by the authorities. Yet, her feeling writing the examination under the COVID-19 pandemic conditions, with regimented safety guidelines and protocols is not the usual type.

WASSCE is one examination that comes with ‘fever’ for the candidates and their parents and teachers.

WAEC fever

“We have heard all manner of stories about WASSCE. We heard that most WAEC questions are technical and therefore will require critical thinking before answering them and that the organisation is also strict with marking. We also heard that once the external supervisors catch any student cheating, that may affect the results of candidates in a whole centre and all that,” Monsurat said.

Due to these, coupled with the nature of her school principal, as a principled person, she pointed out that every student tried to be well-behaved. Although Monsurat was well prepared using the window of opportunity provided by the revision classes, she pointed out that they were gripped with tension because they started with Mathematics, a subject many students dread despite the fact that it is mandatory to pas it, at least at credit level, alongside English Language, to advance in their studies.

So, with social distancing and nose masks on, we sat ‘miles’ apart from one another. This arrangement is odd and unfriendly,” Monsurat said.

On the first day of the examination, her school received an unusually large number of state officials whose mission was to ascertain that the pandemic regulations were being obeyed. She said she said they were warned not to leave their seats or talk to one another and that anyone caught cheating would not go scot-free. There are about 350 of us writing the examination in my school and we all were present on that day but everyone kept to himself or herself,” she stressed, noting that only 30 students are in a classroom, which ordinarily accommodates about 85 students. Monsurat, being a science student, was able to answer up to 85 per cent of the questions in the subject. Some of her non-science mates, according to her, were unable to do that. She noted that for her not to have attempted all the questions wasn’t because of lack of sufficient time but because some of the questions were difficult.

Even I answered up to that extent because of the optional questions provided. And I am sure of having at least C5 in the subject,” she noted. For other subjects so far done, she said tension had reduced and as of Wednesday when she wrote the Chemistry paper, everybody was calm. As regards practical class, as a science student, she said they also observed social\physical distancing in the laboratories with students arranged in groups and taking turns to perform experiments.

‘Absence of group discussion affected us’

Monsurat’s experience is similar to that of others, to whom Saturday Tribune spoke. They include Tomiwa, Precious, Mohammed and Chukwudi (surnames withheld on request). Tomiwa and Precious attend the same private school around Fagba-Iju axis of Ifako-Ijaiye, while Mohammed and Chukwudi are schooling in Agege and Alimosho local government areas, respectively. Although just like Monsurat, all of them had equally sat UTME and want to go to universities (not polytechnics or colleges of education), only two of them scored above 200 in the qualifying examination. But optimism is driving them to do well in the foundation examination, which is WASSCE.

NECO to the rescue?

In an interview with Saturday Tribune, WAEC’s helmsman in Nigeria assured candidates not to expect questions outside the syllabus for the examination. When asked if WAEC broke its promise by coming up with questions for different subjects that were not covered by the syllabus, the answers were mixed. While Tomiwa and Mohammed, just like Monsurat, said the questions were within scope, Precious and Chukwudi said they found the questions tough and were now left with the hope of combining their WASSCE result with NECO, which is yet to be written.

Source: Nigerian Tribune

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